Record producers pose for portraiture in front of sprawling, NASA-like mixing desks. It’s conventional if not obligatory, but the role of producer should not be confused with that of the knob-twiddling, signal-routing, sound-shaping, decibel-counting engineer. Because producers operate at the intersection of every stream of the recording process – the artistic, the technical, the economic – their role is commonly misunderstood and often weirdly mythologized. In hip hop, for example, the job often seems to encompass branding and marketing synergies as much as music.
Some producers aren’t all that technically savvy. Some keep themselves deliberately in the dark, as if all those wires were snares that might distract them from the big picture, forest-for-the-trees style. One thinks of celebrity producer Rick Rubin telling Johnny Cash, “You’re Johnny F*%*&ing Cash” and issuing impossibly Zen directives from his mouthless beard, and of Johnny Cash hearing them and then being Johnny Cash for the microphone, and of Rick Rubin being a genius and then taking a French leave. But that notion of producing as an oblique and (in Phil Spector’s case) a gunpoint artistic facilitation has largely perished – an artifact of a time when there was money and a budget line for hokum.